Sunday, November 18, 2018

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Choosing a family law attorney is kind of like buying skincare products.  I was reminded of this fact when I recently replenished the products for my own skincare regimen.  I really don't like spending a lot on skincare.  I read the magazines where they rate products and they say this or that certain drugstore product is really good.  I think to myself that if those products are so good, maybe I should use them instead of my normal regiment.  Periodically, I try that.  Here's what happens. 

I open the jar of the drugstore brand, which is less than half the cost of my normal cream.  The cream smells good.  It feels creamy.  I put it on my face.  I put more of it on my face. It seems to take more cream to make my skin feel hydrated.  Over time, my skin doesn't look equally hydrated (and rejuvenated - let's not kid ourselves if we are of a certain age).  I end up with skin that doesn't look as good, and because I am using more product, I don't think I'm actually saving money.  In fact, horror of horrors, I think I'm spending more, just not all at once.

I'll never forget the first time I bought more expensive skincare.  The salesperson gave me one of those little sample packets with purchase, you know, the ones that are about the same size as a sweetener packet.  I thought that packet would last one application, there was so little in it.  It lasted three.  My jars of expensive cream?  They last three times as long as the drugstore brand, plus my skin looks better.  Really, I end up saving money (especially as I get older and need the creams more.).  When I was younger, probably not so much because my skin had fewer issues.  Have there been times when I just couldn't afford my more expensive skincare?  Sure, and on those occasions, I picked the best less expensive version I could find. 

How is that like choosing a family law attorney?  Well, people call my office all the time asking if I do a free consultation.  They hear my fee for an initial meeting ($600 for up to two hours) and my hourly rate ($375 in Frederick and $400 in Montgomery) and gasp.  Some of them sputter that Attorney X down the street gives a free consultation and only charges $150 an hour.  Some of those people go down the street.  I have cases against those attorneys.  Those cases end up costing Attorney X's clients significantly more than mine, on average.  Why?  They are not as knowledgeable.  They are not as efficient at doing what needs to be done as I.

Just so we're clear, the more expensive attorney is not necessarily better.  There are a number of attorneys in town who charge as much or more than I who are nevertheless terrible attorneys.  Then again, I have bought an expensive face cream or two in my life that did not do what it said it would do, and that left my skin worse than the drugstore cream.  I'm not saying to choose an attorney on cost alone - there are a LOT of really good attorneys who have lower rates than mine, perhaps because they haven't been in practice long, or because they chose for whatever reason to keep their rate low.  Price alone doesn't determine quality, but it can.

What I am saying is that when you choose a family law attorney, don't do it on hourly rate or cost alone because sometimes more expensive is cheaper and sometimes cheaper is more expensive.  I know you don't have a lot of money.  Here's what I also know:  an experienced family law attorney knows how much a case will probably cost (within a range), what you will need to invest in and what you won't, and they can help you budget your funds.  They've probably developed systems to streamline the process of the case so they're more efficient.  They've seen it before and developed a strategy for your problem.  They have a good or great relationship and reputation with other attorneys and the court. Maybe they can help you find the funds for the representation.  If they don't think you can afford them, they'll tell you and usually can recommend someone who can help you at a lower price whose ability they trust (I've gotten some of my favorite clients that way and I hope I've done the same for others).  My point is not to tell you to hire the most expensive attorney.  My point is to understand that sometimes cheaper is more expensive.  Do not let cost be your only guide.  Assess for yourself whether that cheaper attorney is really going to a) advise you well; b)be able to represent you competently and c)save you money.  Do the same for the more expensive one.  Don't shop on cost alone.  Here in the Trenches.

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